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Saturday, 14 September 2013


Children of sea bajau row their boat at a village on the island of Borneo, 
not far from the town of Semporna in the Malaysian state of Sabah. 
The Malaysian Insider pic by Zainal Abd Halimion

In two days time on 16th September, 2013 Malaysia will turn 50 years old. For a country, 50 years of age is very young, although it is old for a human being. It does make me feel my age to realize that I am 25 years older than Malaysia. I have reached the age described by George Burns as the time ‘where everything hurts, what does not hurt does not work.’ The reality is ‘today is the oldest we have ever been, yet the youngest we will ever be.’ 

The theme of this RTD is ‘Malaysia 50 years since formation: inclusive development, nation building and human rights.’ Indeed it is a very wide subject. It is 3 in 1. The 3 are closely inter-related.

Recognising Malaysia Day

In 2007, I used to see billboards at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport with the slogan ‘celebrating 50 years of nationhood’ written on them. Of course the truth is in 2007, Malaysia was only 44 years old. This is a classic case in which history is the distortion of facts by people in power. I used to point this out at the slightest opportunity in the past but it felt like it was just a voice in the wilderness. I had the impression that the federal government was trying to make the people, especially Malaysians living in Sabah, believe that the formation of Malaysia was on 31st August, 1957. 

This probably explains the fact that it took the federal government 46 long years just to accept and acknowledge 16th September as Malaysia Day. For 46 years 16th September passed by as just like any other day although in Sabah it was a public holiday to mark the birthday of the TYT. The focus of national attention was 31st August, the Independence Day of Malaya.

Last year, 2012, was only the third time in 49 years that Malaysia Day was being observed. Following it, some reporters asked me if I was satisfied. My response was, it was 46 years too late, but under the circumstances it was better late than never. I believe this is the wrong way forward, not in line with the spirit and intention of inclusive development, nation building and human rights.

Recently I received an e-mail inviting me to purchase a T-shirt to make people aware that Malaysia Day which falls on 16th September is in fact ‘Occupation Day.’ Inscribed on the T-shirt are slogans stating ‘oil and gas stolen, native rights trampled, civil service Malaynized, 20-points violated, Labuan taken over, cabotage policy and projek ic.’ This is an indication of how some Sabahans feel about Malaysia today. It is one of disappointment. It is not the Malaysia they expected 50 years later.

Inclusive Development & Malaysia Day
Tan Sri Simon speaking. In panel - Prof Jacqueline, Datuk Denison, Prof Hamdan & Mr Suzalie

Inclusiveness implies the treatment of every citizen equally and without exception. It is the right way to move forward. It is even more relevant to a country like Malaysia because it has many potentially divisive factors including geography, race, religion, language, history, tradition, culture and so on. Malaysia is a plural society not homogenous. Inclusive development makes the citizens feel that the government cares for them.

However, the question is - do the citizens feel that the government of the day really cares for them? One good indicator is the result of the 13th general elections held on 5th May this year (2013). The combined votes who wanted a change of government amounted to 5.82 million compared with 5.24 million who preferred the status quo. Under the present electoral boundaries the 5.24 million who voted for the government were rewarded with 133 parliamentary seats whereas the 5.82 million who voted for change were rewarded with only 89 parliamentary seats. Thus, a  government representing the minority was formed. A democratic system of government is usually associated with a government representing the majority.  

I notice that inclusive development is being talked about and indeed intended, but what is being practised is anything but inclusiveness. For example, the Orang Asli in Semenanjung are subjected to a system akin to the apartheid system of South Africa, namely separate development. Why do we have a separate law to control the community? There is a separate department to control the Orang Asli. But the department has never been headed, managed and administered by the Orang Asli themselves. The Orang Asli Act has been in existence since 1954 meaning it is 59 years old this year (2013).

But look at the sad and pathetic state of affairs of the Orang Asli today! If the law was intended to benefit the Orang Asli, it has not achieved the desired objectives. The law should be repealed and the federal constitution amended to place the Orang Asli in the same category as the Malays. The Orang Asli are more deserving of the so called affirmative action policies meant for the Malays. In the name of inclusiveness the Orang Asli should be represented in government. 

However their representative must be elected by the Orang Asli themselves and not appointed by the government. The government should also seriously consider Suhakam’s recommendations contained in its national land inquiry report.

Nation Building & Malaysia Day

Inclusive development represents a very important component in the nation building process. Let me make some suggestions in respect of nation building.

The process of unifying and integrating should be based on justice, equal rights and respect. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and right.  

No nation which embraced race-based politics and one community claiming superiority over others survived

Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa are cases in mind. The time to discard politics based on race and religion is long overdue. We should move forward as Malaysians. Let us focus on things that bind us as human beings and Malaysians rather than on what divides us. For example, there should be only one box in all government forms and not 1 for Malays, 1 for Chinese, 1 for Indians and 1 for others.

Corruption which is very costly should be eliminated or at least minimized for a start. The commissioners in MACC should be independent commissioners similar to Suhakam and not civil servants. There should be a separate independent prosecutorial agency to handle corruption cases and not the attorney-general.

We should concentrate on enlarging the size of the economic cake rather than spending too much effort and time how to share it. The process of development should be based on need and not on race and religion.

We should have a sound education system at par with the best in the world and all Malaysians should be subject to the same system.

Good governance is described as participatory, transparent, accountable and efficient. It promotes the rule of law and equal justice under the law. Good governance should be the order of the day.

No Malaysian or community should feel deprived or marginalized. Everyone should be treated equally and fairly. There should be no selective prosecution or application of the law.

All laws which empower the government to arrest without trial should be repealed. Article 10 of the UDHR provides that everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial legal body. Article 11 provides that everyone has the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

The provisions of the Treasury Instructions should be strictly complied with. Negotiated tenders should be stopped. It is like a one-horse race. It wins without moving. The real value of the ringgit is not realized. The government must bear in mind that it is just the trustee of the people to take good care of public fund and assets on their behalf.

The illegal immigrants in Sabah should be equally shared among all the states in Malaysia. After all it is a national problem and it is unfair that Malaysians living in Sabah should be shouldering the entire burden. It is also alleged that this is government self-created problem.

Sabah deserves better treatment by the federal government in terms of more equitable distribution of opportunities, development funds and projects.

I understand that the national service training programme was introduced in 2003. The training course only lasts for 3 months for 18-year old youths. I also understand that between 2004 and 2007 2.37 billion ringgit had been spent. During the same period 16 deaths have been recorded. There were also reports of sexual assaults, rapes, lost in the jungle, food poisoning, fever, vomiting, racial brawl and so on. I am not convinced that it is possible during a period of 3 months to instill the feeling of genuine patriotism among 18-year old youths. Neither can you turn them into soldiers in 3 months. It is high time that such courses should be reviewed in terms of cost benefit.

From what I have heard and read the training programme called Biro Tata Negara is more designed to promote ketuanan Melayu and to create unnecessary animosity towards the non-Malays and distort the true facts of history. If that is the case such programme appears to be the opposite of inclusiveness, nation building and human rights and should have no place in this country.

To minimize, if not eliminate, polarization the composition of the civil service and other government agencies should be more reflective of the racial make-up of the Malaysian society.

Meritocracy should be observed and practised, otherwise Malaysia will be left behind in a highly competitive and globalized world.

Petronas Accounts should be made available to the public. Oil and gas is God given and the people have the right to know how the revenue derived from the natural resources is utilized by the government. There is no reason why the accounts should be shrouded in secrecy if the government has nothing to hide.

Human Rights & Malaysia Day

Finally some suggestions associated with human rights. Human rights are our rights as human beings. They have not been conferred on us by any authority. They should therefore not be taken away from us by any authority. However human rights must be accompanied by responsibility. In exercising our human rights we must not, in the process, violate the rights of others.

To date, none of Suhakam’s annual reports has ever been debated in Parliament. Suhakam has been preparing annual reports since the year 2000. It is suggested that the Suhakam Act be amended to make it mandatory for Parliament to debate its annual report. It is also proposed for Suhakam Commissioners to be appointed only once but on a 7-year term to make the national human rights institution truly independent.

The government should no longer delay the implementation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. A police force which is very professional and disciplined should welcome the establishment of such commission.

Suhakam’s report on the recently concluded national land inquiry which incorporates its recommendations should be seriously and favourably considered by government.

To date, Malaysia has not signed and ratified the core international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Malaysia should not delay any longer from signing and ratifying them to prove that it is sincere and committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

The necessary follow-up actions associated with the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) should be expedited in earnest. Suhakam had recommended to the government the development of the NHRAP as early as in 2001, one year after its inception. A NHRAP will help improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia by placing human rights improvements in the context of public policy.

The existence of the internet and the alternative media makes it more and more difficult for the government to hide the truth from the people. The public’s expectation is also getting higher and higher and if the government does not response to their legitimate demand an Arab spring type of situation could develop.

Text of Tan Sri Simon’s speech presented at the PROHAM Malaysia Day RTD held on Saturday 14 September, 2013 from 2.30pm to 5pm at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

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